Connotation is key to communication. Words have subtle shades of meaning and varied colors. Consider this sentence.
Our new hire is quite ambitious.
Reading that sentence, you would expect the person to have big aspirations and a lot of drive to accomplish them. What about this sentence?
Our new hire is quite enthusiastic.
Now the person seems to have a lot of cheerful drive, but may not have the aspirations.
Our new hire is quite determined.
The cheer has given way to clenched teeth and tenacity.
Our new hire is quite pushy.
Whoa, now the person’s drive and energy are steamrolling others.
Ambitious, enthusiastic, determined, and pushy are synonyms that mean striving energetically to get things done. But how the person strives—that’s where the colors lie.
One word can push a sentence or a whole message across the foul line–or across the finish line. Connotation matters.
How can I work with connotation?
Read something you have written and underline any words that stand out. Then review each word to make sure it stands out for the right reasons.
His proposal is meticulous.
Meticulous means constructed with patient attention to each detail. It has a connotation of hard work, dedication, and care. Is that what you mean to say? If not, try another synonym.
His proposal is micromanaged.
Once again, the proposal is constructed with patient attention to each detail. But this time, it is needlessly detailed, making decisions that should be left to others. Is that what you mean to say?
His proposal is complex.
The proposal still has a lot of detail, but we aren’t sure yet whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
His proposal is complicated.
Okay, now it’s a bad thing.
So, what do you really want to say? Are the details good or bad? Does the complexity work or not?
When a word stands out, underline it and think about its connotation. Then substitute a few different synonyms to see which word is closest to the meaning you intend.